Government Using Criminal Charges To Gag Freedom Of Speech – Armenia


16 Aug 07

Yerevan, 16 August: A committee set up in support of Zhirayr Sefilyan
is in favour of abolishing Article 301 of the Armenian Criminal Code.

Armen Aghayan, a member of the committee and the political secretary
of the organization In Defence of Liberated Territories, has said this
article restricts freedom of speech and is used by the law enforcement
agencies against unwanted political figures.

This article (calls for violent overthrow of government) was
used to charge Lebanese citizen Zhirayr Sefilyan, the head of the
organization In Defence of Liberated Territories, and his deputy,
Vardan Malkhasyan. A court of first instance found Sefilyan not
guilty of this account but sentenced him to a year and a half in
prison for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition. The court
found Malkhasyan guilty under Article 301 and sentenced him to two
years’ imprisonment.

Aghayan said today that the committee members consider this article
anti-constitutional and call on non-government organizations and
political parties to consolidate and demand its abolishment.

[Passage omitted: Aghayan suggested that the article be amended if
it cannot be entirely abolished.]

Today’s round table discussion was dedicated to the trial of Sefilyan
and Malkhasyan. Aghayan pointed out that the charges against the
leaders of the organization In Defence of Liberated Territories were
groundless. He said the court’s not guilty verdict on Sefilyan under
Article 301 comes to prove it. He said that Malkhasyan did not call for
the violent removal of the government either; he simply made statements
about the republic’s leadership that the latter did not like.

[Passage omitted: Aghayan said that many share Malkhasyan’s views
and that the country’s leaders are scared of fair and bold words.]